Siobhán’s story - Abortion and the referendum in Ireland

Siobhán Silke
Communications Officer, IFPA

For me the most important aspect of the campaign was the storytelling. There was a time in the very recent past where you could count on one hand the number of women in Ireland who had publicly told their stories of abortion.

In 2000, the Irish Family Planning Association published a book called The Irish Journey which was a collection of personal stories gathered from clients of our counselling service telling stories of their journeys, but it was still anonymous. Then a few years ago, members of Terminations for Medical Reasons - a campaign group involving women and couples who had diagnoses of a fatal fetal anomaly and had been forced to travel elsewhere for terminations - went on Irish TV with their faces showing, with their real names and told their stories. That emboldened and gave courage to others with different tales to come forward too.

So, by 2018, there was a flood of women telling their stories. And it was it was really one of the most important parts of the campaign. I would say that no woman owes anybody her story. But their bravery was just incredible.

Part of my job during the campaign was supporting the women and ensuring that they had a level of protection. I was conscious they had to tell their own story directly, so they’re not filtered. But it it's a delicate thing, because you're asking somebody who is already vulnerable put themselves in a position that could potentially make them more so. I would certainly say when a woman has told her story three or four times to three or four different journalists, that’s enough and it’s time to find someone else. It is also important as a campaigner to have good relationships with journalists. Be ready to respond. Because the other side always will be.

On the day of the vote, there were probably at least 10 women and girls sitting in an airport getting ready to get on flights to go to the UK to seek the care in another country that they should have been able to get in Ireland.

Our own stories as the Irish Family Planning Association were important too, we have decades of experience in providing care to women of all kinds and getting out the voices of our staff members was also was also important. We’ve been at the vanguard of services for almost 50 years. The IFPA was founded in 1969 at a time when there was basically a blanket ban on contraception in Ireland. The misery that caused.

Previously in Ireland the abortion debate had been framed as where life began. Is this a human life? At what point is it moral to have an abortion? It was all about this very esoteric morality.

But the stories the women told were not esoteric or philosophical. They were real lived experiences. The stories brought the sense of injustice home to the public.

For so many women the psychological burden was not about the crisis pregnancy or the termination. It was about being sent away. About being exiled from your own country at a time when you needed support.

On the day of the vote, there were probably at least 10 women and girls sitting in an airport getting ready to get on flights to go to the UK to seek the care in another country that they should have been able to get in Ireland. The day before the vote, any women travelling flew with the shadow of shame hanging over them. On the day of the results I thought of them sitting in the airport terminal knowing they had the country behind them. Thinking of that makes me very emotional.

To find out more about Irish Family Planning Association please visit www.ifpa.ie.

Repealed the 8th: Ireland’s Abortion Referendum

from the Center for Reproductive Rights